The Aberdovey schooner Mervinia, launched 1878

The schooner Mervinia. Source: Lloyd 1996, volume 2, with her copper sheathing showing clearly just above the waterline.

After launching Maglona in 1876 (about which I have posted here), the next ship built by Thomas Richards, one of Aberdovey’s most elite shipbuilders, was Mervinia.

My original intention was to take just one vessel from each shipbuilder in turn before looking at other ships in each shipbuilder’s portfolio, but there are both similarities and differences in the information available for Maglona and Mervinia that made it seem worth describing these vessels consecutively.

Mervinia was launched on February 18th 1878.  She was registered at Aberystwyth, no.3.  She was a two-masted top-sail schooner (with three square sails at the top of her fore mast, but gaff-rigged below, and on her second, main mast).  She had a figurehead in the form of a woman, but it not possible to make it out in the above photograph of the painting.  The name Mervinia was chosen to echo the ancient name of Merioneth.At 96 tons and 84ft long, she was smaller than the 114 ton Maglona.  She had very fine lines, as the painting above demonstrates, and was copper-sheathed below the waterline.  The purpose of copper sheathing was to prevent both fouling of the hull beneath the waterline, damaging the wood and slowing the ship, and the incursion of teredo worm, which burrowed lethally into wooden hulls beneath the waterline like giant marine woodworm.  Copper sheathing was adopted in the Royal Navy during the 18th Century, and became standard on deep sea merchant shipping in the early 19th Century.  By 1816, 18% of British merchant ships had copper sheathing.

As with Maglona, Mervinia had only two owners at launch, Richard Owen (who had been the main share-holder in Maglona), a timber merchant from Machynlleth, with 60 shares.  He was also her managing owner (the person who made the business decisions regarding a vessel’s career).  The other four shares were held by her builder Thomas Richards.  More information about both men can be found on the post about the previous ship built by Richards, Maglona.

Source: The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 25th January 1878

The launch of Mervinia on 15th January 1878 was covered in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard:  “The event had excited much interest in the village and neighbourhood and, fortunately the weather was most favourable for the interesting proceedings which, owing to the state of the tide, had to take place at an early hour, viz., soon after nine a.m.”  Fortunately the bottle of wine used by Miss M. Marsh of Carno to launch the ship by breaking it against the hull duly smashed – an unbroken bottle was a very bad omen.  The bottle was “gaily decorated with ribbons” of red, white and blue, and must have looked very celebratory.  The crowd cheered as the ship glided into the water.  The newspaper report goes on to say that “the Misses Marsh” contributed books in Welsh and English for the bookcase that had been fitted on the ship, for the use of the captain and crew.

Following his precedent with Maglona, as soon as the ship was launched Owen began to sell his shares for a profit, selling 30 of his 60 shares over a three day period between 18th and 20th February 1878, which provided a more familiar ownership mix, and a highly localized one:

  • John Jones master mariner, Aberdovey – 8 shares
  • Evan Jones, labourer, Aberdovey – 8 shares
  • David Davies, quarryman, Aberdovey – 4 shares
  • Richard Williams, master mariner, Aberdovey –  4 shares
  • John Evans, master mariner, Aberdovey – 4 shares
  • John Roberts, quarryman, Aberdovey –  2 shares

Mervinia’s first destination was reported as the Shetland Islands, but in April she was in South Shields.  Lewis Lloyd follows her various voyages and crew following her launch.  Her first officers were her Master  John “Black Jack” Jones (1850-1899), master mariner of Aberdovey, aged 27, who remained with the ship in various roles until his death in November 1899 and the Mate  David Jones of Aberdovey, aged 23, John Jones’s younger brother.

The way in which Mervinia‘s senior crew members were organized is interesting.  Both master and mate were paid off in April 1878 but rejoined the ship as Boatswain and Able Seaman respectively two weeks later under Captain John Evans  from Bangor, aged 58.  The switch-around in crew is the first of many, and can probably be explained by the ship’s destination to Portuguese ports, Vianna  do Castelo (and other foreign ports en route) in July 1878, and then to Oporto and other ports in September 1878.  In both cases she returned to South Shields.  As soon as the ship returned to coastal waters, John Jones was restored to Master with John Evans as Mate and David Jones retained as Able Seaman.  John Evans was paid off in October 1878, and David Jones resumed his role as Mate.

The site of the yard where Thomas Richards built his schooners, now the memorial park on the edge of Penhelig. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory (1948), pl.40

The ship now began to operate on new routes, this time out of Newport in Wales, and again the crew was rearranged, presumably to take advantage of experience in foreign waters.  For a trip from Liverpool to Avila in Spain, returning to Newport between 17th May 1879 and 23rd June 1879, the Master was now Charles Dean Cook of Bristol, aged 57 and John Jones was  boatswain and Purser.  David Jones left the ship.  On her next voyage from Newport to Bilbao and back to Newport (9th July 1879 to 16th August 1879)  John Evans returned as Master, with John Jones remaining as boatswain and purser.  The same arrangement was retained for her next trip from Newport to Alicante and then Runcorn (28th August 1879 to 20th November 1879).  For the rest of 1879, Mervinia returned to the coastal trade, John Jones was reinstated as Master and John Evans was Mate.

These changes in role and status were not merely nominal.  The pay that went with each position was allocated on a hierarchical basis, so every time John Jones, David Jones and John Evans were promoted or demoted, their salaries also changed.  It must have been difficult to plan ahead under such circumstances, even when in full-time employ.

The ship’s various voyages are summarized in Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport, volume 1, pages 171-176.  Mervinia operated for at least 12 years after Maglona was wrecked, so the records of the ports she visited are much more extensive.  She called into a remarkable number of foreign ports, apparently becoming a specialist in overseas cargo transport, visiting Portugal, various  Mediterranean destinations, Newfoundland ports (mainly St John’s, Fogo and Twillingate), the Baltic and southern Ireland.  British ports that she visited include Glasgow, Greenock, Grangemouth, Gloucester, Port Talbot, Bristol, Hull, Teignmouth, Newport, Liverpool, Cardiff, Swansea, Parr (Cornwall), Dartmouth, Runcorn, Porthmadog and of course Aberdovey.

This photograph, showing a group of schooners, as well as a steamer, apparently includes Mervinia. D.W. Morgan says that she is the one with the copper bottom, but the photograph is so small that even after expanding it, I’m not sure which one he means. I suspect it is the ship in the middle of the photograph, where a colour differentiation can be seen just above the waterline. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory 1948, pl.41

Unfortunately, the various books do not note what cargo she was carrying.  Some clues can be picked up from Welsh newspaper reports.  On 26th November 1897 the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard records that Mervinia arrived in Aberdovey with cement for Rhayader.  The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on 24th February 1899 reports that she arrived carrying potatoes, presumably from Ireland and the Shipping News of 19th September 1899 edition of the Cardigan Bay Visitor records that she loaded slates from Bryneglwys quarries by the wharf.  In 1900 the Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser reported that Mervinia, now registered in Gloucester, was back at Aberdovey at the end of January loading a cargo of slate. In 1901 she arrived in port at Aberdovey from Antwerp with a cargo of cement, reported briefly in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, July 12th 1901.  In spite of this dearth of information, it is likely that she carried various cargoes.  Helpfully, and already noted in the post about Maglona, in Brief Glory, D.W. Morgan says that traditional cargoes when her destination was Newfoundland, were slate from Aberdovey or Porthmadog to Cadiz, sea salt from Cadiz for St John’s, in ballast (with no cargo) to Labrador where she awaited the arrival of cod that was then salted and dried and brought alongside in small boats.  The salted cod was then taken to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  “The cargo having been sold, iron ore for Mostyn, barrels of olive oil for for Goole, marble for Exmouth as the case might be would be shipped, and the vessel pointed for home.  Usually Aberdovey or Porthmadoc were reached in ballast.”

Captain John Jones died in 1899.  According to D.M. Morgan (in Brief Glory 1948, p.170-172) he had been something of a dark character.  Known as Black Jack along the Newfoundland coast, John Jones “was a s swarthy as a Turk, with white gleaming white teeth, a coal black beard and black gleaming eyes and it was ‘Yo-ho and a Bottle of Rum’ with him, unrestrained in his savagery.  A thimble-full of spirits went to his head, and I have known him on one occasion, when Mervinia was in port, raise the town with his outcry.”  He was Morgan’s cousin, the son of his father’s sister.  Some of the stories, which Morgan describes as “well authenticated” are truly unpleasant.  His one redeeming feature, in the eyes of Morgan, is that he refused to sail on a Sunday.  He died at the Adlard and Co. slate wharf at Dock Head in Bermondsey (London) on November 6th 1899.  As he was walking over the gang-plank from the wharf to the ship he slipped, fell in to the Thames and drowned.  Morgan expresses this with typical panache: “As might have been expected of one of so passionate a nature, Drink and the Devil did for him as it had done for several Aberdovey seamen; they plunged him over a dockside to a muddy doom.”  His body was retrieved and returned to Aberdovey for burial.

In 1900 Mervinia was registered in Gloucester, after which the only reference I have found is the above-mentioned arrival from Antwerp with a cargo of cement.  The Aberdovey-built schooner Sarah Davies was in port at the same time.  This was the era when the steamers Dora and Telephone were regular visitors from Liverpool (about which there is more information here), and on one occasion in 1899 Telephone  tried to give Mervinia a tow into port during a heavy easterly wind, but the rope failed and Mervinia sat at sea until conditions improved.   D.W. Morgan says that she was lost near Oporto, but gives no date or other details.

Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard
Cardigan Bay Visitor
Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser

Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 1. ISBN-10 1874786488
Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496
McCarthy, M. 2005. Ships’ Fastenings: From Sewn Boat to Steamship. Texas A&M University Press
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press

1 thought on “The Aberdovey schooner Mervinia, launched 1878

  1. William Byrnes

    I take it that when your Rotherhithe ship portfolio is up on the internet, your Aberdovey collection will follow. B.

    Like

    Reply

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